Empty Trails & Broken Vessels or The Bookstore EP or Whatever the Hell it’s Called

Empty Trails & Broken Vessels or The Bookstore EP or Whatever the Hell it’s Called

I’m going to delve into detail here with an intimate backstory behind the new EP, what it means to me, and what inspired me to write most of the songs on it. I’m going to get kind of personal and put myself out there—because I’m a textbook oversharer.

Before this project was even an idea or concept in my head, I was working on a full length album for somewhere around 6 years. Well I guess you could say that. My brother and I were planning to record one and kept writing, rewriting, adding, and removing songs; between periodically forgetting about the thing entirely for months or even years at a time.

So a couple of summers ago when I was bumming around Los Angeles I decided to take full advantage of a friend of mine in the music business and have him record guitar and vocals. This, so was planned, would be the bedrock upon which the new album would be structured. Then a full year later (without touching the thing once), my brother Rob and I started tackling the tracks with renewed spirit. This lasted for about 3 months, with unsurprisingly little progress being made due to the minimal amount of time between both of our schedules where we could get together and actually work on the thing.

At one point some shit went down with him and work on the album was put on hold indefinitely until he could get things sorted out.

It’s been just shy of 10 years now since my last studio album. 10 years! That’s a lot of time. My music has changed dramatically during the past 10 years. Hell, during the past 5 years. Shit, even during the past 2 years we’ve actually been working on the “album” my style has changed. I decided I needed to get things moving if I ever hoped to have something out.

If I were to sit around and wait for the right time, trying to make sure every condition was perfect and every part in every song was perfect (at least as close as it could be to perfect in my mind), I could spend 20 years and still not have anything to show for it.

So I decided to leave the album where it was and instead take 6-8 of my newest songs and throw them together on an EP. This group of songs is bit of a musical potpourri as I’ve done quite a bit of soul-searching as an artist over the past couple of years. One song might sound like underground country, another like acoustic pop, and yet another with some electronic influence. Despite their melodic differences, there are a couple of things that tie the tracks together:

One, the subject matter. I’ve had a rough couple of years trying to find myself through a rough patch of depression and anxiety. A few people I’d thought were close friends turned tail and ran when the times got tough and it was a big eye-opener. It’s been a strange trip since I started delving into entrepreneurship and it turns out money doesn’t matter as much as I thought it did at the beginning, at least as long as the bills are paid. Once you’re comfortable, money doesn’t do fuck-all for your happiness. I can also tell you that if you do achieve any semblance of business success financially, it will absolutely break your heart how many of your acquaintances and even friends will resent you for it, whether knowingly or not.

Many people don’t realize how much hard work (and stress) goes into starting, growing, and managing a business. They don’t see the uncertainty of “gambling” your bank account in the hopes you’ll get a return on investment later down the line or the stress of knowing employees depend on you. Or the big kick in the testicles when the tax bill comes. It’s similar to people who don’t travel and tell you you’re lucky. Most of them could travel a lot as well if they really wanted to, but they don’t want it enough to sacrifice their comfortability. Or they can’t deal with so much uncertainty and prefer a more stable living. Nothing wrong with that at all! But don’t act like entrepreneurs or travelers or anyone for that matter is reaping all the benefits while sacrificing nothing.

It’s almost like they think you just inherited a trust fund or found a briefcase full of twenties. “Must be nice!” is a sentiment that comes to mind. Well, it wasn’t nice when this hadn’t worked yet and I was sitting around biting my fingernails wondering if I’d ever escape the poverty line. It wasn’t nice when I had to sell another one of my possessions and felt like laying in the bottom of a hole in the fetal position, figuring I’d be poor forever.

Their sentiment worked—I felt guilty for making more money than them, even though I’d worked hard and sacrificed a lot to get where I was. When everything came crashing down around me a year later and I found myself once-more at the bottom of the financial ladder, I made a promise to myself that I’d never be ashamed of success again. I won’t go around throwing it anyone’s face, but I’d never again be abashed over it. I’ve sacrificed so much over the past few years, especially now, and any success I achieve in the end, I feel like I’ve earned it through blood, sweat, and tears. Any person who doesn’t recognize or respect that won’t be missed. There will be no more love lost.

I learned after a while not to talk about business outside of business circles or with other entrepreneurs. Interestingly enough, the only time I felt comfortable talking to most friends about business was when things weren’t so good. It got a better response. I’m thankful for the friends who were there for me during that time. You know who you are, I hope.

It also turns out, as expected, that romance for a road dog is a tricky endeavor suited to only the sturdiest of suitors. There’s always a girl back home or a girl on the road that just can’t quit hammering the insides of your brain, and of course, that tired old cliché of the one that got away. And oh, did she… a couple of times.

Second, the location. I lived in an apartment above a bookstore in Chillicothe, Ohio for about a year (between a month here or there of traveling). It was in this hip little pad that a lot of the aforementioned bumps in the road were traversed, and interestingly enough where most of the tracks were written and recorded. The rhythm guitar, vocals, some of the keys, and some of the cello (Suzanne Watters) were all recorded in the apartment above the bookstore. The drums and the rest of the cello were recorded next door in a record shop called Apollo Records that a good buddy of mine named Jesse Mitten owns. (He actually played the drums as well.) The rest of the tracks were recorded in Los Angeles, where I’m living now.

Because of the latter common denominator I had originally planned to call this project The Bookstore EP. It seemed appropriate. In fact it seemed fitting enough for about 4 or 5 months while I was recording the thing, up until a month or so ago. It kind of dawned on me that while it’s a cool name for the EP, it doesn’t really fit the subject matter of the songs. While The Bookstore EP sounds happy and lighthearted, the lyrics lining the songs within are mostly the opposite. There’s a happy song here or there, but most of them lyrically follow the aforementioned synopsis of failed relationships, failed businesses, and failed friendships that composed most of the shit I felt like writing about over the past year.

My brother and I used to joke about how we only seemed to be inspired to write about sad subject. We were somehow inspired by our failures. Even our songs that sounded happy might’ve been about some heartbreaking or melancholy subject matter. Fittingly, we called our first band Failure Savvy. 

In the past, I’ve always written songs to try and fit them to a certain genre or theme. My idea of what my music should sound like, if you will. This past year I experimented with something different. I would just sit down to write when inspiration struck, and whatever came out, came out. And thus, I’m left with this potpourri of musical styles. And as I struggled to find myself amidst a run of some rough luck and soul-searching, the lyrics followed the same theme.

As with any given year—even the bad ones—the times aren’t always tough, and I have a few songs to reflect the good times, the happy thoughts, and my hopes for the future. But pondering on the bad times that a lot of these songs reflect, I thought the other day of how many paths I’d taken during this period that I’d thought would lead to something good—whether it be relationships or business ventures—and how many things I thought would help or assist me along the way—friends, businesses that would lead to greater things, etc.—that ended up leaving me high and dry, whether intentional (or my fault) or not. So the name Empty Trails & Broken Vessels popped into my head. That’s what most of these songs represent. All of the roads to nowhere I’ve taken, whether they be on the subject of either females, finances, or friendships, and all of the figurative vehicles that have failed me along the way.

I don’t have much else to say about the story behind each of these songs. I’d rather let the lyrics speak for themselves and people can derive their own meanings from each one individually.

All that remains now is a few rogue guitar and vocal tracks and some polishing on a few piano and organ tracks and Empty Trails & Broken Vessels will be ready for your ears! I’m going to launch a Kickstarter soon with the hopes that the EP will be released early this summer!

 

Peace and Happy Travels,

-Tom

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